The West's stake in the third-world aid; The view from Washington

We have a deep ang growing stake in developing countries. We cannot get along without them -- as trading partners and markets, as sources of essential materials; as necessary partners in efforts to address pollution and population, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and countless other issues touching all of our lives.

We want them to progress because we care about people. We also want them to succeed because our own economic health is bound up with theirs.

It is our interest to do all we can now to counter the conditions that are likely to drive people to desperation later. It costs less to invest now in clean water systems than to work later at curing the diseases caused by foul water. It is prudent to help people toward agricultural self-sufficiency, instead of offering later the emergency programs needed to sustain life against drought and famine. We would rather send technicians abroad to help grow crops than send soldiers to fight the wars that can result when people are hungry and susceptible to exploitation by others.

So let there be no mistake. By slashing these international programs we are not saving money. We are merely postponing and dramatically raising the costs that one day will come due.

These programs are important for another reason. With them, we have an opportunity to influence events in crucial areas of the world.Without them our power to shape events is drastically diminished.

Our support for liberty in the world -- our defense of American and Western interests -- cannot be mounted with military weapons alone. The battle for American influence in the world requires more than rockets, certainly more than rhetoric. It requires the resources that make our diplomacy effective.

What are the likely consequences for America if we lack those resources?

The first consequence is American isolation. We need healthy trading partners. We need access to facilities and resources. We need the support of others in helping achieve peaceful alternatives to regional conflicts. We need political support -- whether it be in resisting terrorism in Iran or aggression in Afghanistan.

But we cannot expect the cooperation and support of others on issues of importantce to us if we are unprepared to offer concrete support on matters of importance to them -- particularly their own economic development and social progress.

Isolation would be only one consequence. Declining American aid and declining American influence would also help the Soviets exploit internal instability. In Nicaragua, in El Salvador, and in many other places where the Soviets are prepared to exploit tensions to expand their power and to limit Western influence.

We have been trying for a year and more to strengthen the center in Nicaragua; to help moderates there resist extremist solutions. Every time we tried to appropriate the funds necessary to support our efforts in Nicaragua, the effort was defeated. Finally, Congress has acted to make possible $75 million needed to fulfill our commitment, after months of delay. And in the delay, we suffered a loss of credibility that spilled over not only Nicaraguan borders, but into other counttries in Central America. The willingness of the United States to work for democracy was called into question throughout the region.

The point if this: Those most concerned about Soviet and Cuban activism in the world should be the strongest supporters of our efforts to support the moderate transition from repressive tyranny to democratic development. For by failing to support the alternatives to radicalism, we help radicalism to breed.

This continuing assault on foreign assistance is not only shortsighted; it is dangerous to American interests. For it threatens the capacity of the United States to play a positive role in the world, to compete effectively with the Soviets, to encourage emerging -- and threatened -- democracies. It threatens to strip America of all its instruments except the instruments of destruction.

I believe that the American People, if they have the facts, will understand what is at stake. I believe they will understand that a generous investment in security assistance and economic development abroad is necessary to a strong America.

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